Hooked on Bluegrass

Larry "The Thin Man" White

It all started at Samohi (Santa Monica High), my best friend was from Illinois and actually knew what Bluegrass was, AND HAD SEEN IT (live even, not on The Grand Ol Opry or Roy Acuff TV shows which we got, but I hadn't heard of them either)! So he told me that he was gonna learn the guitar and that I should learn the banjo! (why not, it was better than high school!)

He took me to the Ashgrove in Hollywood (about 1961) to see Flatt and Scruggs! It was all completely new to me, I remember my first impressions were that the banjo playin was pretty cool, but they talked and sang kinda funny! The fiddle playing was kind of funny too (not sure what to make of those elements). But I decided anyway (with a little peer pressure) to buy a banjo! So, of course I bought a nice openback tenor and the local hock shop Ace Loans and Jewelry! I even remember playing it with my pal at a talent contest at school, we must've been REALLY BAD! (I found out later that it was a 5 string that I shoulda got).

I stuck with it because we had a WONDERFULL folk music club at Samohi, my new pal to be Ry Cooder was in it, and so were Bess Lomax Hawes daughters Corey and Naomi, plus a bunch more just as good who I can't remember! It was dynamite (neanderthal expression, kind of like killer), and we had a Hootenanny about every week, what a great way to learn, the Hootenannies were like todays' jams, lots of wannabes in the back rows.

We often went to the Ashgrove to see The Kentucky Colonels, Ry went too, (and I went there to see all the bluesmen with him too!) in fact Ry won the Topanga Canyon Banjo fiddle Contest one year (beat out Fred Soccolow) in the advanced division(Taj Mahal won the pro division, and David Lindley who had been playing fiddle 6 months beat Brantley Kearns!). Ry even got to open with Bill Monroe once when he arrived a day ahead of his band!

The whole music scene was just amazing to me (not coming from a traditional musical heritage), seeing all kinds of talent, and A LOT of it in my folk music club, my peers! It was also very helpfull to have Rys' wisdom, I remember seeing Scotty Stoneman playing that chromatic (up and down) Maphis lick, and then seeing Clarence do it on guitar (and later Roland TOO!), and hearing Ry say "what are they playing that shit for". That was the first time I heard tell of the legendary SHIT RUN!

To sum it up, I'm very gratefull for all the exposure (to ALL traditional music), not only to the music, but to people like Ry Cooder who valued all of it, and had the taste to pick the best of it out, and point out what wasn't the best!

(posted 4/16/2006)

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